Rockstar games have made themselves quite the juggernaut in games today. With the release of the new trailer for Red Dead Redemption 2 (RDR2) we get a solid look at what Rockstar has been cooking up for years; grim, violent and visually stunning. Without a doubt Rockstar is going to deliver another masterpiece of a game; but isn’t that what we are expecting?
For the past five years since Grand Theft Auto V has been out it has been on the top of the sales charts for NPD. With Rockstar boasting over 90 million units since its launch date and being heralded as the highest grossing entertainment release on the planet it is pretty clear that when Rockstar goes big they go huge. In other words if you are releasing a game, weather it is Call of Duty or something for the Switch eShop, get out of the way because the surge and size of a Rockstar game will eclipse your IP.
It has been quite apparent this year regarding the release of certain titles that Call of Duty, who has usually always shipped a title in November has opted to release Black Ops 4 on October 12th instead. Some may say this is Activision being afraid of the competition, not really, it is Activision being smart. If you know your IP cannot contend with a competitor get out of the way, find a different month to drop the title and then figure out how to shift your marketing to accommodate that. Remember, the November race is all about the Thanksgiving sales. Activision and their early announcement is also smart since EA has not said a peep about their supposed Battlefield V as well as Microsoft and whatever they are cooking up this year (hopefully a Halo or Gears sequel). This means that their window for release of whatever juggernaut franchise they have planned is closing. There is however the outlier; Nintendo.
Nintendo is quite an interesting company. They tend to do what they want, how they want and when they want. Of course this unpredictability makes them a bit inconsistent to stakeholders, but when they hit something out of the park (like the Switch or Wii), they really nail it. With the rumors of Smash Bros. for Switch being a focal point of Nintendo at E3 I can imagine Smash releasing whenever Nintendo wants, even in the wake of RDR2, and still selling huge numbers. But is this the right thing to do?
The Kotaku’s, IGN’s and Polygon’s of game media will be all over RDR2 on launch with a wave of articles spanning a few weeks. These large news sites tend to pull off the Google Trends train and find how well a title is making noise in searches and with that info they know if to run another piece or not on Red Dead weeks after launch. This also means that there will be less news about Smash spreading from these sites in the wake of RDR2. So maybe it would be wise for Nintendo to wait a bit, or release early. They have done so in the past with Smash for Wii releasing at the end of January, and Smash for WiiU releasing in September, well outside the waves of the AAA juggernauts for the holiday.
We also have some other titles that can make surprise hype during this year. The announcement of CD Projekt Red having an E3 presence will no doubt cause some folks at 2K (publisher for RDR2) to frown with concern. We have no idea if this game is slated for this year or not. Square Enix is expected to have some ace up their sleeve with a possible announcement of Kingdom Hearts 3 and some news on the Final Fantasy 7 remake. Additionally, we can’t forget some further news on Last of Us 2 coming from Naughty Dog. All these moving parts from companies all competing for a spot on “death row” which marketing sometimes calls the November month of the year. As mentioned before; If you are not a monster AAA franchise do not bother releasing your title during this month, you will simply be destroyed from the huge budget of marketing attached to these games.
It is interesting however to see that Rockstar is confident enough to put a release date of their title towards the end of October taking up a spot that leaves competitors scratching their head. The first week of November is usually the sweet spot for a AAA release with three weeks to build hype and make sales figures (and console bundles) in time for Thanksgiving. However an extra week (or two) puts competition in a spot where releasing too close to the holiday might be hell for marketing to figure out a plan and too far could mean their IP disappears under the nuclear blast of a Rockstar game. Only a few weeks to E3 before all is known, so I guess we’ll just wait and see.